Waking up to my cell phone is now the order of the day. There was a time when MS woke me up …. every morning. Her voice rang into my ears – clear, sharp and distinct – Kausalya Supraja rama poorva…. If you are a Tamilian or lived in Tamilnadu for sometime, you would have heard this every day in the morning. Some house, some where will surely play this even if they did not play it in your own house. As we rushed through our morning chores, searching for school badge which amma will find under the chair or stuck to yesterday’s shirt and screaming for lost notebooks (they always got lost in the morning), we would hear MS going on …. Sree Sreenivasa Jagadekadayaika sindho…. When we started breakfast, Suprabhatam would be over and Rajaji would start his speech…. "Adi Sankaracharya composed a number of vedantic hymns…." And then again MS would start Bhaja Govindam…. Sthaapa kaayacha dhanmasya…. and as we readied up our bicycles for school, she would be somewhere three fourths of the Bhaja Govindam song.
I was too ignorant in my school days to pay attention to MS. But my adolescence gave way to proper adulthood which brought with it a sense of admiration for the good that existed in this world. However, approbation is only as good as one’s accessible resources. Other than the few cassettes at home and a few telecasts in Podhigai, there was nothing else to aid my hearing appendages. Enter internet. The internet has enhanced my life as probably it has enhanced none other’s. One of the useful things I did with it was listen to MS. It increased my sense of wonder and awe to that of high esteem for MS.
What was it about her – was it her singular voice, was it her impeccable diction, was it her stunning clarity, her ability to add a dash of variety to her songs – what was it that drew me to her? I opine that singing is not a mere matter of acoustics. Had it been man would have invented a machine for the purpose. It is not just the ability to vibrate the vocal chords blessed with a remarkable voice that gives MS the status of "The Queen Of Music". Be it Tamil, Sanksrit, Telugu, Kannada or Vrajbhasha that she sang, she was a master of the pronounciation. The precision in her voice was unmatcheable. She had no rival when it came to the raagas and their rendering. Also, she always knew what she was signing, no paper, no notes, nothing. She never moved from her place nor did she involve herself in any acrobatics on the stage. Her saree fold barely moved an inch as she did a 3 hour kutcheri. Only her hands sometimes moved up and down during some songs. She always acknowledged her pakkavaadhyam with a smile.
One can argue that these are characteristics that any singer can acquire given the right length of time and opportunity. MS is way above all this normalcy. Normal singers can delight your ears, better ones can maximum touch your heart but MS touches the very soul and she elevates it to a level that is beyond any imagination. Music takes me to a different world, but MS transports me to bliss.
While others sing with their voices, it is MS’s inherent bhakthi, humility and simplicity that precipitate through her vocal chords and manifest themselves as her voice. No wonder there is such divinity about the way she sings! The innate simplicity of her renderings makes even the lay man appreciate the nuances of raagas. Genius, she was, but more than that she was humble. She was THE authority in Carnatic music till the day she lived. But she bowed to the Sabha reverently each time she completed a song. No trace of any pride anywhere. She trained every day till she was hospitalized. Such respect for her art! She was her natural self whether it was in Bhaktha Meera, whether she was singing in Music Academy at Madras or whether it was the United Nations – dignity embodied. She appreciated any newcomer and encouraged any new found talent. She crowned the UN Conference with her devotion…. Maitrem Bhajata…. yudham tyajata, spadhaam tyajata and received a standing ovation.
Some words are so good that they do no have english equivalents. When I listen to "Giridhar Gopala…." of MS, it is not adequate to say that I lose myself, we say "lahichu poitten" in tamil – the kinds that you feel when your imaginations are alive in the moonlight. Effortlessly she sings…. "Kaatu Vilangum Kette mayangum…." mayakkam dhan varudhu…. Mayakkam is another word for which I cannot find the English equivalent – perhaps a state of extreme elation. When she goes…. "Kundrin mel kallagi nirkindra varadha…" my vocabulary is stranded.
When the pressures of life sap my strength, MS is my sole saviour. When I feel exhausted, she is my energy. Numerous occassions I have been lost in thought over ethical dilemmas and all those numerous times her songs have given me strength to face them.
No account of MS is complete without a mention of her better half – the venerable Sadasivam. For a married woman in India to be successful, there are two options: either her husband has to be extremely supportive or she has to divorce him. MS was lucky on that front to be married to Sadasivam. MS, we can say owes much of her success to his encouragement, love and continual support. A true Chennaiite; she relished two things – coffee and Carnatic music (atleast this is one thing I have in common with her!) 🙂
I have heard about Andaal, Meera Bhai, Kabir Das and others in whom divinity lived, but a very few I have seen. MS is one of them. And I am glad I have lived to see her, to listen to her and hold her in my heart.